Visiting Thahab: Survival and Surveillance with Nabeela Vega

September 11th, 2001. A few days prior, performance artist Nabeela Vega had just moved from the United States from their home in Bangladesh with their family, at the age of eleven. In its aftermath, the American Dream that ushers in so many rapidly unfurls, and navigating this new landscape becomes a new kind of contentious for Brown bodies. It is violent, ugly and mimics a time that had never really gone by, a time that has always been but wears a new mask, wears a different form.

In “Migration – Nilofar”, Vega’s mother narrates the family’s American un-Dream, the rarely-told stories of the hardship and alienation faced in migration to a land imperfect, as a figure in gold motions through the artist’s own past and present lived realities. Their name is Thahab.

Vega’s “Visiting Thahab” series is an exploration of the Muslim American femme in a post-9/11 diaspora. The ramifications of 9/11, both personally and socio-politically, and how the West has and continues to view Brown is translated through the artist’s characterization of “Thahab”, who navigates a most contested space in explorations of the serene, the obscene, mundane and absurd. Whether meditating by the sea or grocery shopping at a supermarket, Thahab’s outward appearance marks them as other, as brown, despite the transcendence or mundanity of their actions. They never assimilates nor is permitted to assimilate of their volition; how they is accepted and perceived in their now home is governed by the national and global rise of Islamophobia.

“Thahab” is at once the commingling, reconciliation and resistance of the brown Other in America, draped in a gold lame shroud symbolic of gauche American capitalism and the simple, unstitched cloth used to cover the deceased in Muslim culture, it is neither a total acceptance of the American nor the death of the Othered identity. Thahab is somewhere in between, neither here nor there.

For more of Nabeela Vega’s work, visit here.

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